EV Moonshot Part 2: What we’ve learned driving our Nissan Leaf (around the dark side of the moon)

Making a commitment to drive an EV involves a pretty serious paradigm shift. Universal EV adoption is a critical step toward decarbonizing transportation, so long as we’re driving on renewable energy (not coal, natural gas, etc.). Driving an EV to get around town is a no-brainer; you can charge at home or at work and never worry about your next recharge. But venture out on a trip and it’s a different story. This is the paradigm shift part. We made our ‘moonshot’ the first time we strapped ourselves into the new Leaf last summer, driving not around town, but all the way to Atlantic Beach from Boone (in the mountains) as complete EV newbies. Since then we’ve made many shorter trips to Asheville, about 90 mountain miles from home. We’ve made trips ‘down the mountain’ to Charlotte to the airport or other parts of the city. Ditto Winston-Salem. Pretty much have those wired. A ‘shorter trip’ for us is any destination we can reach without a ‘midflight’ recharge AND where the destination has adequate charging options. On these trips, we can recharge the battery at the destination and get home without worry (‘range anxiety’). We, and in this case, mostly my wife have also made quite a few trips to Raleigh, which requires a ‘midflight’ recharge. That distance requires a little more planning, but once done and repeated a few times, it also becomes wired.

So we’ve learned a lot in 6+ months and 8k miles to get the most out of our Leaf, which is to say using it for longer trips involving at least one ‘inflight’ recharge. That said, sometimes there’s an unexpected wrinkle in the plan. An ‘Apollo 13′ moment where the plan goes awry, calling for some dark side of the moon contingency planning on the fly. We’ve managed every one of those so far but the other night was a little beyond the pale. I’ve made a graphic of what happened on this particular Raleigh-to-Boone trip (below, click on the image to enlarge).

Here are some takeaways:
Charging infrastructure is fragile and inadequate along travel corridors. If one charger is broken down, in use, or ICEd, oftentimes there just isn’t enough redundancy in the area to recover without a Plan B. And if you’re on ‘empty’ you won’t have a lot of range for a Plan C.

I’d like to see more strategic placement of DC fast charging along regional motorways. Just isn’t there. I’ve also seen greater demand on what does exist, so you might have to wait your turn to charge, further lengthening your travel time. Got to keep this in mind if you’re heading to a meeting or to catch a plane.

Time of travel is a factor in reliability of charging infrastructure for a host of reasons. (Safety after hours, ICEd spaces, EV charging may not be open 24/7, etc.)

EV ‘range’ is a factor that can compensate for inadequate charging infrastructure. We have 150 miles per charge on our 40kWh battery (Nissan advertised but not in reality; downhill and tailwinds just aren’t always there). We’ve got just enough range to venture out on short+ regional trips. Less range and we’d just use our EV for local commuting. Nothing wrong with that. With more range (e.g. Tesla & ‘battery envy’), obviously we’d do more out of town trips.

Travel only when necessary and rethink what is really necessary. Pumping million year-old dinosaur rot into the gas tank and driving endlessly and mindlessly is something I’ve become more conscious of now that I’m thinking more about the energy it takes to motor all over creation. A gazillion EV’s means the same thing a gazillion gas guzzlers means in terms of sprawl and land use. Just creates more energy demand.

EV’s are amazing to drive! Compared to the EV experience, driving a fossil fuel burning car feels about as sophisticated as a covered wagon. EV’s are SO smooth. Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal, no bleeding edge liberal publication, equated internal combustion cars to flip phones—‘nobody will want them.’ Meaning? Kiss your money goodbye and good luck getting repairs.

And FYI, Clean Energy Credit Union is a good source for EV financing. Check them out. They’d love it if you would use them also for a savings account! They’ll loan it right back out for good cause. They’re legit.

Finally, I know this doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement of EV adoption right now, especially since most of us have a lot to juggle and just may not want to make the commitment. But….. I recently came across a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that applies to all of us who claim to care about each other, the climate and the future for all of humanity….. ‘preach always, sometimes use words’ …… so go get in an EV, drive it, advocate for renewable energy to ‘drive on sunshine’ as friends of AIRE are so fond of saying.

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